The Computer: Some New Rules.




The photos are unrelated but I had to share them. I took these this morning while the computer was turned off and I saw how sunny and gorgeous it was outside, albeit January. In Wisconsin. So the photos I didn't take when we were under the weather this fall I took today. The annual jacket pictures. (Followed, yes, by the annual jacket-photographs-ice-cream-bribe.)

But maybe the pictures aren't unrelated after all. Because these two are at the heart of what I'm about to say.

I talk a good talk when it comes to being present. Playing more. Reading more. Being alive and participating joyfully in this everyday experience. And I do it. Quite often. But… not as often as I'd like.

In truth, this computer stalks me. It haunts me.

I run a business. I write this blog. I've started a book. I'm a little busy. And the computer sucks me in, day after day; moment after moment.

Our home office is situated in the center of our home in a pass-through hallway. No matter where I'm going or what I'm doing, I walk by the computer. It's there. Flirting with me in all of it's IMac allure. It's whispering, "What's happeing online? Don't you want to check email? Your blog? Facebook? Pinterest? How about that recipe you were looking for. It'll only take a minute." On and on it goes. Damned thing.

And it does only take a minute, or a few minutes. But they're adding up.

And I find myself sitting (or more often standing – it'll only be a minute, right?) here at this screen with a child and a dog at each side and a cat at my feet, all wondering where mama went and what exactly is so captivating over here.

And then I yell (to no one in particular): "ENOUGH!" Enough. (Okay, I only yell it in my head. But seriously: Enough!)

I shut it off. I talked to Pete. If we could quit carbs (sugar! popcorn! grains!) for almost a year surely we could tone down the on-line time. For real. He's interested too, after too many precious hours lost in this endless pit of potential.

And so we are. We're taming the beast. Being mindful. Present. Alive. Not asleep at the wheel staring at a lifeless (albeit entertaining) box.

Today I turned off my computer. I skimmed emails in the morning (3 minutes?) and briefly mid-day (15 or so).  And after I write this post I'm powering this baby off for the night. Because you know what? I'll never wonder what I missed on-line sitting here for hours. But I might just miss the time I could have spent knitting, reading to my kids, playing "fairyland", taking my puppy for a walk, or even cleaning my basement.

Because really – what will we remember? The time we spent on Facebook or the time we spent living our best lives and drinking up all that is here for us? I know my answer.


So I have some new rules for myself. They are old rules too. Things I've talked about before.

1. Go outside every day. Play. Frolic. Live and breath and be. This is my only lifetime in this body. I'm  going to live it up.

2. Power the computer off when not in use. It's so much less tempting that way. I often write a post-it note to myself that I stick to the center of the screen with "Be Present" written on it, or the time I will next let myself boot up. It keeps me honest to see that "1:00 PM" staring at me if I'm powering it on at 11.

3. Simplify. Take those few-yet-frequent minutes that I use to spend on the internet and clean something. Anything. A drawer. A closet. My head. (As I type this my porch is brimming with bags of loot that we are moving down the road. Look closely at the photo above and you'll see some of treasures in the background. By simplifying my computer use I will have more time to simplify my home.)

5. Set Limits. I will still be on-line. Almost every day. But when I do I will be mindful of how much time I give it. 10 minutes? 30? An hour? One self-indulgent evening after the kids are asleep now and then? I will do so mindfully and know when my time is up and life is calling me back.

Oh, the irony of writing this post on my computer. But alas, I don't have most of your phone numbers.

46 thoughts on “The Computer: Some New Rules.

  1. Jennifer says:

    It is a tricky thing isn’t it? I only keep my tiny little notebook computer upstairs during the day. It is useful for writing when the kiddos are playing peacefully and not wanting me to engage, but it is too slow to browse. My “working”computer is kept in the office, which my husband occupies during the day to work, and he keeps the door shut and sometimes locked to keep out little people who do not understated work hours. I find that helps. I can write, which is ok, but nothing else which is also good. I accept that the internet is useful. We homeschool, there are great resources and recipes and things to learn and experiments to try so the internet is useful in my life, but like you I agree, NOT during family hours. Finding that balance is difficult. Even now, there are real life things to be doing, but instead I am here, which don’t get me wrong, is a lovely place to be, but you understand…
    With this more computerized world we live in how do we keep up with life and find that simplicity within ourselves? I am struggling a bit.

  2. Casey says:

    I, too, have been trying to spend less time ‘plugged in’ and more time present in my day to day life. It IS hard, but it’s so very worth it!

  3. Michelle says:

    Oh, I am totally right there with you on this one. Last weekend I tried an “unplugged Sunday” and was amazed at 1) how much more productive I was when I wasn’t on the netbook all day long and b) the times I felt the urge to get online – when I was tired, “in-between” things like just after finishing a meal but before starting another activity, and whenever I felt kinda bored.

    It was a great practice, and now I feel a glut of internet overdose after being online a lot again these past three days. I need to set some boundaries for myself! I’m interested to hear how it goes for you.

  4. KC says:

    I say the same thing to myself everyday. The only problem is we don’t have a radio. So I use the computer to play music. Then of course I get sucked in just a little…Your kids are beautiful!

  5. Kristen- Marinade Handmade says:

    Here I am on Facebook at almost midnight Pacific time and I was just thinking the same thing right before I saw your post. I was supposed to hit the hot tub with my husband over an hour ago, but alas, we both got sucked into our separate little worlds. Good for you for stepping away! I need to make a conscious effort to do the same….

  6. Marlo says:

    Love this Rachel. I often think of your unplugged post from last year. Why is the computer so addicting? Really, we all survived quite well before we had the Internet. My new computer rules are similar to yours. I think turning it off is the most important part of limiting my time. Also, being accountable to a friend. We check in on each other and bust each other if we see each other on facebook. That is a huge help. I’m glad you wrote this, because, judging from the comments, we could start our own support group for our computer addiction. Hello everyone, my name is Marlo and I honestly and truly am addicted to the Internet. But right now I am going to go build a lego castle. So there Internet.

  7. Robyn says:

    I too am struggling with this, but it’s even worse because i use my smart phone for almost all my internetting, so it’s even more tempting…since it’s…sitting…right…there…staring at me. The problem is though, I am home alone every night with my 2.5 year old, while daddy is at work. I tend to seek out facebook and twitter (just a minute here or there) on my phone to feel a connection with adults when i’m home alone and feeling lonely. Don’t get me wrong, i love playing with my 2.5 year old, but i do get lonely and weary without adults every evening. i think the pregnancy is making it harder for me too, as i’m really tired in the evenings. it’s a challenge for sure.

  8. Susie says:

    Well, it’s pretty much like you read my mind! I just got a new computer and managed to overcome the ‘horror’ of turning the computer off as it no longer takes ten years for it boot up. Curiously, turning the computer off does make me much less inclined to turn it on.
    But still, I too need to back away. I particularly like your third point – clean something instead mindlessly whiling away time! Good idea – thanks.


  9. Jessica says:

    Oh I am soooo with you. I just spent this beautiful morning hour on the computer…but it’s so tempting when the kids are sleeping, and my coffee is hot, and it’s dark outside…

  10. Rachel Wolf says:

    Me, too, Jennifer. I think being with kids 100% of the time feeds the addiction. Just a quick hit of grown-up interest peppered in with all those picture books and science experiments and housekeeping… We’ll find the balance though. I’m sure of it.

  11. Rachel Wolf says:

    I love the “Unplugged Sunday” concept. In truth, I’ve not done it in a while (“I’m not really on the computer. I just need to check one quick thing….”) This week. I’m doing it.

  12. Rachel Wolf says:

    Tara, If you are like me you have enough inspiration for 10 lifetimes already. Really, how inspired must we be before we create? I crave it, but in truth I would be happier with some of the inspiration I already have put into action.

  13. Rachel Wolf says:

    My husband got a smart phone so that we can process credit cards on it at the farmer’s market. But that means that where ever we are we have internet. I actually checked Facebook a few times the last time we were at the cabin. The cabin – my internet free sanctuary. Time to be stronger than the urge.

  14. kd says:

    I have noticed that Alice and I used to read more often on the couch, side by side. Now sometimes she is reading a book while I’m online. That is NOT the example I want to set. And because she goes to school, it is (should be) so easy for me to just ban the commuter from 3:30 until she goes to sleep. And so I will. Thank you, Rachel! PS. I love the line, “This is my only life in this body.” I will remember that when I think it’s “too cold” to go outside. PSS. Also love the pics of the two kids together, looking at each other. Beautiful!

  15. Vicki Bott says:

    I have these same thoughts and sometimes feel guilty about my time online. However, I do wonder if we might be “demonizing” the computer itself. Would we feel this way if we were reading in print form and writing and reading letters from friends and acquaintances on paper? That’s what we’re doing online–communicating with others. Communicating with others and learning (from finding new recipes, new information, and reading articles and blogs) is a fine with to spend some time every day and not a bad example to sit for our kids. Like other things though, we/I need to make sure the time spent doing these types of activities is not out of proportion.

  16. lori says:

    I’m in the smart phone club and at times I’m grateful for it but other times its way way to convienient. I generally don’t have or take time to physically sit at the computer but my phone is always hanging around. Think I will do a post it note on my phone. Oh Rachel I sent you a Facebook message a few days ago.

  17. Mousy Brown says:

    I switch off every weekend..Sat and Sun and spend my time in the “real world”…I had to go cold turkey, otherwise the minute here and there added up! I also ditched facebook and refuse to join twitter and I was astonished that my life carried on without disaster! lol But I still know I get sucked in and have to get some balance…I do feel grateful to the online world where I have met amazing friends, found a supportive community which understands and sticks up for me and I am inspired endlessly by the creative, culinary and thought provoking stuff I find to read but still I have to remember to filter out that which takes from my time and that which helps me grow…and wow can that be a a hard balance to get right! I love your way of describing “mindful” computer use, that sounds about perfect to me…I’m off to try! 😀

  18. Emily says:

    I loved this post It’s truly inspiring I aspire to this daily and the imac and internet call to me…to do what! Waste time and miss out on life! Thanks for your inspiration. 🙂 Now to lunch prep and reading to my little girl!

  19. Caroline says:

    Once again, I found one of your posts at the perfect time. I took the girls out for a long walk this morning despite the chilly wind… we certainly made the most of a sunny morning!

    While I’m not the best at completely shutting the laptop off, I can easily close it and set it aside until I have a few minutes alone (either after the kids are napping or in bed).

    Thanks for another good reminder of what priorities are 🙂

  20. chloe says:

    Have you tried Spotify? It has a music catalog available offline. I found myself opening another tab when Pandora was open until a friend introduced me to this program. My computer is still on but I can turn off my wifi and force myself into only music.

  21. Willow says:

    TV, computer, all those things…
    you don’t miss them when they aren’t around but they somehow suck time when they are. apparently there is some software that shows you exactly how much time you spend online and on each particular site etc. i’m sure most of us would be sad to see the hours of time we’ve really spent in front of an electronic screen. like anything, moderation is key i guess. and the internet is definitely a gift in its way.

  22. Sarah says:

    Thank you for writing this! I have been wanting to write an almost identical post myself, but you really expressed everything I’ve been feeling. I keep joking with my husband that he should just take my laptop with him to work so I can’t use it during the day while my little ones are around. I just might do it! Good luck to all of us!

  23. Sheila says:

    This is so what I needed. I’ve been feeling this same way, but realized I could probably do all my online “need to do” list and some surfing around in one hour. I don’t even have to do it in one chunk. I like your rules for use. They are more like encouragements and tools to stay on the path. Better than wallowing uselessly in guilt….

  24. shayray says:

    Powering down is hard for me too. I use my computer for work, and then it is like walking into a library. So much interesting information at my fingertips. The days I decide to be off the computer always feel good.

  25. Rachel Wolf says:

    Love it. Small steps, right? It is about simply becoming more mindful – not somehow becoming “perfect”. Thanks for inspiring these photos, Kel! We love them so. They will be treasured forever. So grateful that you lit that spark.

  26. Rachel Wolf says:

    Thank you Vicki for your voice of moderation. I love what I do online and I value what it brings to my life. Goodness, I suppose I wouldn’t do the writing that I do here if I didn’t see the value of this form of communication and education. But for me it so often hijacks my day and my intentions, and there I need to step in and claim back what I value. Thanks so much for your words.

  27. Rachel Wolf says:

    All weekend? I’m so very impressed. I’m working up to it. I swear. 🙂 I, too, feel grateful for my online life – friends I’ve met through this space and others. Just not as grateful as I am for what I have right here around me.

  28. mamaUK says:

    Great post! Before Christmas I made a pact with my husband that we wouldn’t use our iPhone/Ipod touch when the children are around, I find what works for me so I don’t get tempted is to take them upstairs and put them on a really high shelf out of reach, then it is not tempting just to grab them for a quick internet fix! My iPod touch lives on top of the wardrobe when the children are awake…I have to stand on my tippy toes to try and reach it back again…With our laptops we use them for a set time at lunch for about one hour and then after the girls are in bed I might use it for another thirty mins/one hour.

  29. Mama Jen says:

    this is the very reason i have resisted the urge to join facebook and thus unable to join pinterest (sp?). i know they will just suck me in. this is the only blog i read always, others here and there but really i try to limit my screen time. and i can totally connect with your comment on having inspiration 10 lifetimes over. all the ideas and projects…peace to you and all your readers

  30. Robyn says:

    I feel the same about all the support i’ve found online. no one in my real life does the whole natural parenting thing, and most think i’m crazy…can’t wait for the reactions when they find out we aren’t circumsizing the new baby (gasp!). so, while i need my internet for the support i get, i do need to cut back. Balance, balance, balance…

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